Wednesday, July 29, 2009

15 Query Contest

Dear Ms. Meadows,

Seventeen-year-old Amy has no desire to become one of the first colonists on a new planet--but her parents do. So she agrees to be cryogenically frozen for the journey, even though that means giving up the life she loves on Earth.

Three hundred years later, Elder begins his training as leader of the space ship, part of the generations of people who live and die during the centuries-long voyage in order to keep the ship running. Although he hates being encased by the metal walls of the ship, he lives with the hope of planet-landing before he dies.

He has no idea the ship holds a cargo of cryogenically frozen people.

Then Amy wakes up fifty years early.

As Amy adjusts to life on a space ship without her still-frozen parents, she and Elder discover that her cryo chamber didn't malfunction--someone had tried to kill her, and is now succeeding as he unplugs more and more helplessly frozen victims. Desperate to find the killer before he gets to her parents, Amy must combine her knowledge of the past with Elder's knowledge of the ship and technology. Their digging leads to discoveries about how the ship's leaders have maintained control in the past...and why one man thinks the answer is to kill the cryogenically frozen people before they have a future.

Complete at 80,000 words, LONG WAY HOME is a YA science fiction intended for teens who like modern, character-driven speculative fiction. Building on the suspense of solving a mystery in a contained area like Jeanne Du Prau's CITY OF EMBER and the philosophical implications of science in Mary Pearson’s THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, my novel, LONG WAY HOME, tells a story of mystery and deceit through the alternating view points of Amy and Elder.

I am currently a high school world literature teacher and an active member of SCBWI, having been published in and working as the copy editor of the state SCBWI magazine. Additionally, I run a blog on writing for MG and YA audiences which has over 250 subscribers.

I am prepared to submit the entire manuscript upon your request. Thank you for your time and consideration with this project.


My name is Elder, even though I'm the youngest one on the ship. Not that I'm young. Sixteen years should mark me as an adult. But still, I'm youngest by a decade.

I lay on the cool metal floor of the Keeper Level, the only level with a window to the uni outside. Above me, the stars are abbreviated dashes in the sky, with streaks of faint colors―mostly reds and yellows, but sometimes blues or greens―within the lines of the stars.

I wonder, sometimes―I can't help but wonder―what it will feel like to stand on Centauri-Earth and look up at the stars and see only dots of light, not trailing splatters of delicate colors. It'll be a long time, I know―I'll be really old by the time we land, but when we do, I hope it’s at night. I want it to be really dark with no clouds or moons, and I hope before we set out to make our new world as the first humans on another planet, we all take a moment to stand still on the planet and look at the sparkling stars.

But I try not to think about it too much. Planet-landing is a long way away, and I don't like to remember how much time will pass before I go from being a traveler to a settler.

Above me, the stars glow brightly.

And then one of them dies.


  1. I like the premise of this story but was wondering if you should start the query with Elder since the sample starts with him, too. I liked the sample and would definitely read on.

  2. Hooked!

    I think you may consider changing around the first paragraph in your 250 words because it sounds like second person and it threw me off. The rest, though, was good.

  3. I felt the beginning was a little confusing, with the jumps in time (300 years later, 50 years earlier). Also, it seemed like a lot of explanation for a query.

    It's written well though, and if I was interested in this genre, I probably would have been hooked.

  4. Query:

    Yes. Hooked.

    That said - my problem is... I was kinda thinking about Lost in Space as I read the premise. But with an intriguing twist - in that the cargo is unknown. I like that. :]

    I do think that you listed too many novels, and the title of your own novel kinda got lost in the shuffle.

    Snippet: Not entirely hooked... though I would read on. It seems telly to me....

  5. I agree that the you might want to start your query off with Elder, then add Amy as she becomes important to the storyline. But the idea is intriguing, and your sample was great. I got a great sense of Elder's sense of self, and the line at the end where the star dies is a great setup for what comes next (I'm assuming). Consider me hooked.

  6. Query - This was intriguing enough to read on.

    Excerpt - I didn't get a real feel of the voice. Writing could be tightened.

  7. I really enjoyed your query - my only suggestion is to make it clear that Elder is young like Amy, I didn't realize this until I read the excerpt. The first 250 were great - I think you did a great job of establishing the mood - especially with that last line.

  8. Wow! I thought the query as great. And I liked the first paragraph, but the second I lay on the cool metal floor-started losing my attention. I started to wonder- who is he talking to? is he writing this in a journal?

    I kept reading and liked the explanation of the stars upclose and all. I think its a great idea, but the writing/his voice wasn't just grabbing me the way agents claim it must.

  9. I agree with beginning your query with Elder - for one thing, his name is awesome!

    It might be cool to have:

    [Elder's intro para]

    He has no idea [...]

    Then Amy wakes up 50 years early.

    [Amy's intro para]

    That would make me go, "Ooo, who's Amy?"

    Kudos for picking two current comp titles - one of mine was outdated.

    I like your excerpt. Consider checking for repeated words (e.g. colors, stars). I know they're important, but you may be able to use others.

  10. You're my co-favorite of the 58 entries. I'm very hooked on both the query and 250....and it takes a lot for me to get interested in your genre...your character building is superb. I read the comments above and think their suggestions should be considered.

  11. Query: Hooked. This is really well written with all the essential elements. It is a bit jarring that the query reads more like Amy's story, but then when you read the excerpt it's from Elder's POV. Even though you briefly mention the dual POV, it might work better to flip them in the query so the reader is expecting Elder's voice.

    Excerpt: My only confusion was whether they are heading back to Earth (ours) or have renamed another planet Centauri-Earth (to take after ours)? Other than that, really liked it. Great job, you're 99% of the way there! Woo hoo!

  12. Impressive query. You might shorten the last sentence of the description to something about how their digging reveals more frozen lives are at stake.

    Very good snippet. I think there is one too many dashed-off statements for these beginning paragraphs. And to see the stars, it's not about landing at night, but about landing on the night side of the planet. Yes, young people would pick at a detail like that.

    Mark in the Seattle area

  13. The query is fantastic. At first, I thought...ohh hummm....then I read about Elder not knowing about the cargo. I thought, oh boy. Interesting. Then the murderer on board, very cool.

    The query started out about Amy, so I was surprised that the first 250 was from Elder's POV. You might consider clearing that bit up a little.

    Overall, I'm hooked.

    Good Luck!

  14. Hi again,

    I'm still hooked but something was bothering me. I'm an ex-physicist and noticed you have the stars streaking. They can't, unless the vessel is traveling close to or at light speed. BTW: star streaking in sci-fi at those speeds is generally accepted, but scientists are divided by numerous theories. If the trip is to Alpha centauri it's only 4.3 light years away, since your trip is for hundreds of years see, no streaks.

    While I'm on pickies, "you say, "in order to keep the ship running" in the second para of the query portion. This isn't uplifting. Isn't the crew also helping their descendents get to a new planet, a new life, as far as they know?
    I also find it incredible that the crew after all those years doesn't know or can't find out about the "special" cargo. Why> The crew has to know every square inch in space, Scotty told me. or they won't survive meterite hits. ... and Amy upon waking didn't have any difficulties finding Elder and she's been asleep and in an impossible area to find. Often getting in is as hard as getting out, because, there's no need to get out by the sleepers, why would there be any signs or portals (at least that were obvious)?

    I think if you fix these items IMO you'll have crafted a great voyage, one I'd be delighted to take.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Hi Locksley!

    I'm the author of this one--I wasn't going to pipe up, but I really wanted to respond to your last comment.

    I'm actually tickled pink that you realized that stars shouldn't streak like that. You're 100% correct. When the star "dies" at the end of the 250 words you see here, Elder discovers that it was actually a very elaborate *projection* intending to give the appearance of fast movement. By the end of the first chapter, Elder not only discovers that the "stars" he's seeing aren't real, but also learns that there is a lot about this ship that isn't the way he's been told it is.

    Also--although Elder doesn't know about the hidden level with the frozens, many on board do and they, therefore, would be able to take care of the problems you note. (Although Elder is going to be the next leader, he's only just begun his training.)

    Like I said, I didn't want to speak up until after the contest is over, but I did want to let you (and everyone else) know that the questions you raised are all part of the text (and most of those are answered within the first few chapters). And I really am thrilled that you noticed that detail! It made my night!

  17. The query hooked me. The only thing you might want to do with it is explain Amy's motivation for 'agreeing' to be frozen. I think it would create more tension if she didn't agree. Maybe her parents didn't give her a choice?

    I'm wavering on the snippet. I think that's because I have a short attention span. You set the mood very well, but I wasn't really interested until the star winked out. Good job, though. I hope ya lit gets more sci-fi stories.

  18. The query definitely hooked me (and I'm not even a big fan of Sci-fi). I kind of floundered a bit at the introduction of Elder and his being on a space ship--wasn't sure how that tied in till I kept reading.

    I don't think you need to have the titles of the other authors books in caps. It kind of takes away from your own.

    The snippet was compelling. I'd read on to see what happens next.

  19. I was so hooked, then you compared your work.

  20. Loved the query and definitely hooked! Seems like it has shades of Solaris and Event Horizon. Nice to see some good sci-fi ideas out there.

    Unfortunately I wasn't all that crazy about your first 250 and the first-person narrative. But the query got me interested so it's a start!

  21. I loved both your query and your sample. Frozen people he doesn't know about and trapped on a spaceship with a murderer? Creepy!

  22. I really, really like this idea. But the end of the query feels weak to me. It needs more bang. Right now, it feels like it kind of fizzles in all the sentences and teases of answers -- but no answers.

    Watch your tense in the first person present; there's an error in the second paragraph. (Lay should be lie.) Also, present tense is *really* hard to pull off. I read this mostly without trouble, but I'd wonder if it would hold up for 80k. First person present needs to be invisible to pull off, but this wasn't quite there. I warn most people away from it; the tense and viewpoint seems to invite scaffolding and stream-of-conscious narrative even when it isn't appropriate.

    The query starts with Amy, but the pages start with Elder. It's a small thing, but I was expecting Amy on page one.

    I'd probably request this one to give it a chance.

  23. I liked the premise a lot, in part because it reminds me of some stories I loved by Allen Steele. (The Coyote series, if you ever want to check it out. Also deals with a generation ship, a child waking up too early, and related intrigue.)